Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Portrait Of William Wilberforce To Go On Display In Hull

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Portrait Of William Wilberforce To Go On Display In Hull
Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Portrait Of William Wilberforce To Go On Display In

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s famous portrait of William Wilberforce will be exhibited in Hull as part of a major project, COMING HOME, launched by the National Portrait Gallery.

The COMING HOME project sees the National Portrait Gallery lend 50 portraits of iconic individuals to places across the UK where they are most closely associated. This country-wide initiative will enable the Gallery to work with local , galleries and other venues and provide communities across the country with the opportunity to celebrate their local heroes.

William Wilberforce was born in 1759, the son of a Hull merchant. In 1780, Wilberforce was elected MP for Hull, and through tireless efforts, became the parliamentary spokesperson for the campaign to abolish the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In 1833, just weeks after Wilberforce died; the Slavery Act was passed which abolished slavery in the British colonies.

Sir Lawrence’s unfinished portrait of Wilberforce holds a special place in the history of British art, being one of the first works acquired by the National Portrait Gallery when it was established in 1856.

Dr Nicolas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “We are delighted to lend Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of William Wilberforce to Ferens Art Gallery as part of our exciting new COMING HOME initiative. We hope that sending portraits ‘home’ in this way will foster a sense of pride and create a personal connection for local communities to a bigger national history; thus helping us to fulfil our aim of being truly a national gallery for everyone, in our role as the nation’s family album.”

As Wilberforce’s portrait will journey home, an accompanying exhibition will look at the reach of his legacy. Starting with Wilberforce, his life in Hull and his pivotal role in the Abolition campaign, the exhibition will explore how his memory has been celebrated in the City and inspired others, like Salim Charles Wilson. Salim Charles Wilson was an anti-slavery campaigner who lived 100 years after Wilberforce. Spurred by his own experiences of being enslaved in North Africa, and inspired by Wilberforce, Wilson campaigned for an end to all slavery. He was a key voice in the city’s 1933 centenary commemorations of Wilberforce’s death.

The exhibition also includes a 2007 commission for Hull by Jamaican artist Keith Piper to mark the national bicentenary of the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Through history, Hull has played a significant role in the abolition of slavery and still today engages with the promotion of freedom through art.  

The Wilberforce portrait will be on display in the Ferens Art Gallery together with works from the Ferens permanent collection, in partnership with Wilberforce House Museum.

Councillor , Chair of Hull Culture and Leisure Limited, said: “We have a rich history in Hull and it is fantastic that the Ferens Art Gallery continues its ambitious exhibitions programme to celebrate this history in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery. This unique exhibition is a great opportunity to highlight areas of our museum collection alongside the Sir Thomas Lawrence masterpiece.”

There will be a programme of talks and events to the complement the exhibition. To find out more about these events, and schools programme visit

This free exhibition will run from 21 September 2019 – 19 January 2020 in Gallery 4. 

The Gallery is open Monday – Saturday, 10am – 4.30pm, and Sunday, 11am – 4pm. 

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